In "Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix," Harry Potter pretends to slip a luck potion into his nervous friend Ron Weasley's drink before a big quidditch match. Weasley performs well in the game. They win. Afterward, Weasley learns that Potter never gave him the potion and that he just needed to believe in himself.
Some things act as a self-fulfilling prophecy. In a culture that bleeds self-improvement messages, where social media apps turn acquaintances into in-your-face celebrities, we could all use a self-esteem boost or benefit from a tool to help with all the self-analysis. And belief systems, or ideologies, or studies, that rely on positivity and self-awareness are valuable in that alone.
At least, that's what I think after meeting Callie Cal at a recent astrology gathering.
Astrology, for those who need a refresher, is "the ancient practice of studying the movements and positions of the sun, moon, planets and stars in the belief that they influence human behavior," according to the Cambridge Dictionary. Your astrological sign is based on your birthday.
I sat next to Cal during a "new moon" meeting for the sign Taurus. I found the group on Google, which is where I began my research into Buffalo's astrology community. That makes sense since, according to the recent Wired article "The Internet Changed Astrology. Then Came The Memes," astrology has become a online thing with the rise of memes and social networking.
Astrologer Cassandra Joan Butler hosts the monthly meetings at the start of every moon cycle inside a vacant Williamsville house-turned-holistic-center called Santosha. She rents the house for her meetings including spiritual healing classes on topics such as awakening one's intuition, mediumship and lucid dreaming. The house looks lived in - books, candles and spiritual wall decor framed the room and a healthy pothos plant rests on the fireplace mantle -- but it's not.
A low, white folding table held the only things differentiating the space from a typical family room: a projector showing a detailed astrology chart above the fireplace, iPad on a tripod and lots of wires.
Around 15 women and one man sat cross-legged on the ground or in fold-up chairs against the wall, staring up at a natal chart of the month's new moon in Taurus.
“Is anyone tired?” Butler asked. Most people nodded. She explained why. “This is the ending cycle of a whole moon.”
Butler has been teaching semi-regular astrology classes on the new moon since 1991. In class, she gave a brief overview of what to expect during the next moon cycle based on where the moon lands on a natal chart, a diagram based on where the moon, sun and planets were in the sky on the time, day and at the place where you were born. This determines your sign.Then she read each guest's personal chart.
After the meeting, Cal said she a bad year in 2017 when her dad got sick. “It was like the world was ending for me," Cal said.
Her dad pulled through, but the sickness caused her to examine her own health. The following year, she lost 100 pounds, left the country for the first time for a trip to Europe and was laid off her job, but was given a healthy severance that allowed her to take the year off to "find herself." Recently, she got a new job at a tech company, which she said she vigorously "manifested."
“I am the best version of me that I’ve ever been," Cal said.
She met Butler late last year when a friend recommended that she go in for a chart reading. Cal said Butler knew things she couldn't have possibly known. Astrology, she said, gave her a purpose.
“I don’t care who thinks this is crazy and thinks we’re all weird,” Cal said. “Because my life has changed for the better.”
As we talked, Butler walked over. Cal heralded astrology's impact on her life.
“The universe brought you to me, I know it did,” she told Butler, who beamed.
Buffalo's astrology community meets in random places: this rented suburban house and a massage therapy office that doubles as an astrology consultation office. One group meets at a Wegmans market cafe. A local coffee shop holds psychic nights. Inspiration Point, an Elmwood Avenue spiritual bookstore, hosts an astrology club and has an on-site tarot card reader. Spiritually Rooted hosts tarot meetings and meditation classes. Dragonfly Studio & Salon organizes psychic play dates and healing arts classes. Even the city's cat cafe, Purrfect, regularly holds tarot card readings.
Astrology followers find each other on the internet, using Meetup, Facebook and Google. However, it's still underground enough in Buffalo to fly under the nose of those unfamiliar with the terms, while being readily available for those who seek it.
“It’s huge in Colorado, New York City, San Francisco for sure, and it’s very popular on the internet as well," said local astrologer Ailsa Marina Forlenza. She's been practicing astrology since 2013 when she felt lost as a new graduate from Brooklyn's Pratt Institute. While astrology is more popular in Brooklyn, she said she sees it emerging in Buffalo, since moving back home.
“New Age culture or things that are not necessarily scientifically proven tend to just be underground in general," Forlenza said. "So maybe by classification, it’s underground. I’d say maybe it’s still underground but there’s blooms coming out of the earth right now for it."
Forlenza views astrology as “some kind of objective lens" to process her life. It's helped her through hard times, like when she had to decide whether to stay in Brooklyn or move back home. Astrology is still a side hustle for her -- she works at Horizon Health Services by day.
Most of her friends believe in it and even the ones who don't still kind of do. “A good friend of mine, she’s like, ‘I don’t believe in it but every time you talk about it, I’m just like..., 'Why is this so accurate?' " Forlenza said.
Rachel Haas, a 2013 graduate of Royalton Hartland High School in Niagara County, now lives in North Buffalo. Back in high school, she started reading some of her mom’s astrology books. “People would think I was crazy,” Haas said.
She finds Buffalo to be more open-minded about astrology than her high school, but she still feels a stigma.
“There’s always people around to talk about it with, but it’s not as, I guess, popular or as OK in society as religion is,” Haas said.
As Julie Beck wrote in her article, The New Age of Astrology in The Atlantic, millennials are into astrology thanks in large part to the internet. According to Beck, astrology has seen many waves, and its most recent pop culture reiteration has less to do with a belief in the spiritual practice, instead acting as a sort of lens to explain life events.
“While there are surely some people who blindly accept astrology as fact and view it as on par with a discipline like biology, that doesn’t seem to be the case among many of the young adults who are fueling this renaissance of the zodiac," Beck wrote. "The people I spoke to for this piece often referred to astrology as a tool, or a kind of language - one that, for many, is more metaphorical than literal."
The internet has made it easier for people to figure out their natal charts or read horoscopes for free, without having to go anywhere. But many still seek a professional chart reading, which Butler provides. She meets astrology clients for one-on-one consultations in her Hertel Avenue massage therapy office and broadcasts Facebook Live videos to the 3,500 people who follow her Facebook page.
Clients, most of whom are women, visit Butler for guidance, validation, security or some combination of all three. Generally, they are concerned with love, money and purpose. A natal chart has 12 sections, known as houses, including houses of partnerships, money, career, self-improvement, creativity and home. Depending on where your cards fall that month, some of those houses prosper more than others.
Every sign has positive qualities. Even the negative traits can serve as positives, in the way that weaknesses in job interviews aren't actually weaknesses. There's a sort of protection in identifying as your astrological sign, acquiring attributes simply by being a mysterious Capricorn or driven Leo.
“What I do is validate what you’re already thinking," Butler said. "I don’t know how it works, I just know it works."
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